Tom Izzo got one foot out the door before pausing.

"We will get back, guys," the Michigan State coach boomed reassuringly as he started the trek back to his office.

Another polar vortex was moving towards Michigan, but something about Izzo's demeanor Thursday suggested a thawed environment.

"Well, for those of you that are privileged enough to show up at practice today, you are going to get to see something that we haven't seen since January," Izzo said. "And that is everyone practicing."

With the return of Branden Dawson on Tuesday and the No. 18 Spartans (22-6, 11-4) enjoying their longest rest since Christmas, there were reasons for Izzo to be upbeat. He has waited two months for his team to be healthy and rested and he can hear the clock ticking on the 2014 season.

"The good news is that when we play this weekend, it is March," Izzo said. "The battle cry to my team is that we have had the week off, chance to improve ourselves a little bit and spent two days doing nothing but work on Michigan State.

"With all that they have been through, I think it is time to start looking forward."

Michigan State is one game out of first place in the Big Ten with three regular season games remaining. They host Illinois this Saturday, Iowa next Thursday and have one final road trip to Ohio State on March 9.

The Buckeyes, who had been gaining ground since a rough start in conference play, lost Thursday night to Penn State, bring their league record to 9-7.

Wisconsin -- who has the highest seed of any Big Ten team in Joe Lunardi's most recent bracketology -- is just one game behind the Spartans in the conference standings.